Description and Identification

The Lapwing is a distinctive wading bird species occurring as a resident and migrant across much of the UK (Svensson et al., 1999). Its UK conservation status is red listed and it is circa 30cm in length with a wingspan of around 85cm (RSPB, n.d.) and its name describes its flight pattern which consists of a single wingbeats followed by undulation in quick succession, and it is also known as the Peewit, a name which describes its distinctive flight call, which sounds almost mechanical and bubbly. The species is distinctive and can  be identified by its dark green winds and mantle, black throat, white belly and pied head. Adults have a distinctive crest and white mirrors on the outer three primaries. Juveniles have pale brown fringing on the mantle. It defends its breeding territory and dissuades predators with audible aerial displays and distractions, a characteristic of the family Charadriidae (Perrins, 2009).

Lapwing, North Fambridge (Essex), March 2014 (Max Hellicar)

The Lapwing is a species which is found across Britain, favouring lowland areas of farmland and wetland areas consisting of short vegetation (Svensson et al., 1999). I have only encountered this species twice at UEA (within the UEA vicinity!) during my short time here so far, with one on Bowthorpe Marsh from 15th to 16th February 2019 and one heard just south of Colney Wood at night on 30th March. The wet and marshy conditions combined with short vegetation, which both Bowthorpe and Earlham Marshes currently provide, are ideal habitats for Lapwing and it’s surprising that they are not currently occurring more regularly here.

Lapwing field sketches (Max Hellicar)


Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Aves
Order: Charadriiformes
Family: Charadriidae
Genus: Vanellus
Species: V. vanellus

Lapwing, North Fambridge (Essex), April 2014 (Max Hellicar)

Family Characteristics

The family Charadriidae consists of medium-sized waders between 15-35cm in length with long legs and short bills. The family Charadriidae contains plovers, lapwings and dotterels and totals around 65 species in 10 genera. Charadriidae are typically wading birds of medium size with compact bodies, short necks, short tails, straight bills, short toes and long wings which are often pointed with the exception of most lapwing species which have rounded wings.
Charadriidae are generally found in open habitats near water, including shorelines, grassland and tundra with some species being frequent on agricultural land, such as V. vanellus. The family has a worldwide distribution excluding Antarctica (Perrins, 2009), with some species undertaking large seasonal movements, however some species only undertake local movements.
Charadriidae feed by sight on terrestrial and aquatic invertebrates including small insects, worms and crustaceans depending on the habitat (Perrins, 2009) usually feeding using a technique of running and pausing, unlike Gallinago or Haematopus species which probe into mud for their food. Charadriidae undertake different moult cycles throughout their life, with post-juvenile moult occurring from September to November for first-calendar-year birds only, annual spring partial moult from January to April, and autumn complete (main moult) from August to November (Svensson et al., 1999).
The majority of Charadriidae are monogamous (Perrins, 2009) and nests are generally simple and shallow scrapes on open or bare patches of ground, as demonstrated by V. vanellus (Svensson et al., 1999). Charadriidae typically lay four eggs, but this can range from two to six, which are pale with small to large dark blotches (Perrins, 2009). The incubation period varies between species from 18-38 days and young fledge at 21-42 days old, being precocial (capable of feeding themselves almost immediately) when fledging (Perrins, 2009).

Lapwing, Rainham Marshes (Essex), May 2015 (Max Hellicar)

References and Sources of Information

Perrins, C. (2009). The Encyclopedia of Birds. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.

Royal Society for the Protection of Birds. (n.d.). Lapwing Bird Facts. Retrieved March 31, 2019, from Royal Society for the Protection of Birds:

Svensson, L., Grant, P. J., Mullarney, K., & Zetterstrom, D. (1999). Collins Bird Guide. London, UK: Harper-Collins.